Preservation push vs. housing needs

Fort Collins needs apartments. And condos, and student housing. All of this we know.

Fort Collins also happens to have been around a while (founded: 1864) and many of the buildings in town reflect this history, offering a window into the way things once were here in the Choice City.

Projects like the restoration of the Avery Building downtown are an excellent example of how historic preservation can add charm and value to our city. The block of Old Town around the building has regained a historic flair that it was lacking before.

In order to ensure the continued preservation of the history of Fort Collins, there exists, within the city’s neighborhood development department, a commission whose responsibility is to determine which properties are historically significant and protect those that are.

It’s an important job, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

That being said, Fort Collins needs apartments. Vacancy rates are way down, rents are climbing to the point where buying is sometimes cheaper, and more students are enrolling at CSU every semester.

Bearing all of this in mind, I’ll assert that it seems like a good idea to keep the path to much-needed new developments as clear as possible.

For the most part, the city does a good job of this. But, as of late, I’ve been hearing about a couple of situations that signal trouble: projects being slowed or halted completely because of concerns over the potential historic significance of buildings on a piece of land or in the area.

Often, such concerns have merit. But sometimes, they don’t.

For instance, you might recall the Carriage House Apartment project was rejected by the planning and zoning commission in February 2011 because the Landmark Preservation Commission had determined that one of the two houses that would need to be demolished was eligible for historic preservation.

As I reported in the Jan. 11-24 issue of the Business Report, a rule went into effect over the summer allowing the developer of Carriage House to appeal the Landmark Preservation Commission’s determination. In October, after reviewing a report done by a second expert, the commission overturned the initial decision, allowing Carriage House to go forward.

That’s eight months. Eight months that the project was set back, and if it hadn’t been for the rule change, it may never have happened at all.

Now, elsewhere in the city, what could potentially be a $9 million multi-family project has hit the skids because of an established historic district located nearby.

The district runs between 1600 and 1700 Sheely Drive, a neighborhood just off Prospect Road in between College Avenue and Shields Street.

Nearby sit the Landmark Apartments, the owner of which has a contract to buy an adjacent piece of land and who would like to expand his current offerings to include a new, 84-unit multi-family complex.

However, because of the nearby 11-house historic district, designated between 1998 and 2000, the project’s developers say they’re running into a lot of resistance from the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission. An eight-page document was drawn up, detailing all the things that needed to be changed about the project, and many of those changes have been made, according to developer Stephen Slezak of Amshel Real Estate Services.

For example, the project’s architecture will attempt to mimic that of the era in which the homes were built, the mid-1950s, and the building will be terraced on upper levels to be easier on the eyes. Nevertheless, the commission has said that the new development would not be compatible with the historic district.

The developer and the city are at a stalemate for the time being, and the project, which could work to help alleviate the 0.4 percent vacancy rate in that part of town, is on hold. It’s important to note that the proposed project would not sit within the historic district, will not involve tearing down any historic properties or disturb any landmarks. It simply sits next to an area that has been deemed historically significant.

I’m sure there are some who will disagree, but Slezak thinks his project is a good candidate for reconsideration.

Historic properties are a wonderful part of our community, and should be maintained for years to come, but at what point should the line be drawn between protecting history and impeding growth?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Email me at the address below.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate for the Business Report. She can be reached at 970- 232-3139, at marmbrister@ncbr.com or at twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR
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